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Why Do Dogs Cross Their Paws?

Does your dog cross their paws when laying down? This behaviour is sometimes called “polite paws” and always makes for a cute photo opportunity!

In most cases, there’s no deep meaning for crossing the paws, other than it’s a comfortable position for your dog to lay. It can also be a sign of relaxation and contentment.

Let’s take a deeper look at why dogs might cross their paws, what it really means, and whether it’s ever something to worry about.

What Does It Mean When Dogs Cross Their Paws?

The simple answer is that dogs cross their paws because it’s a comfortable way for them to lay.

Many dogs rest in the “polite paws” pose when they are relaxed but not quite asleep. I’ve often noticed my dogs cross their paws when they are chilled out, but still want to remain alert to what’s going on in their surroundings (possibly because it’s nearly dinner time!)

What makes “polite paws” a comfortable position to lay in though?

Crossing the front paws may help relieve pressure on the dog’s shoulders and upper body. Try rotating your elbows outwards – you’ll immediately notice how doing so affects the shoulders.

This doesn’t mean that crossed paws is a “better” way for dogs to lie though – it’s just different. Just as we might shift in our chairs after sitting for a long period, crossing the paws might feel like a nice change to a dog who has been laying for a while.

The good news is that crossed paws usually indicate a relaxed and content dog. Dogs are unlikely to lie in this position if they aren’t secure in their surroundings.

Does It Mean The Dog Is Being “Polite”?

Despite often being called “polite paws”, crossing the paws has nothing to do with the dog being polite. It also certainly doesn’t mean the dog is being “submissive” – dominance-based theories have been thoroughly debunked.

In fact, there is probably no behavioural meaning to crossing the paws, beyond the dog being relaxed. So, you can think of “polite paws” as just a cute way for your dog to rest, rather than having a deeper meaning.

Do All Breeds Cross Their Paws?

Almost any dog can cross their paws, but this behaviour is more commonly seen in large dog breeds. For example, my golden retrievers often lay with their paws crossed, but my friend’s cavapoo doesn’t seem to ever do it. Why is this?

The answer is probably related to the dog’s anatomy, as crossing the paws is more difficult for certain breeds.

A good example is dogs with short legs, who might find it difficult to get into this position. These breeds, including dachshunds and Bassett hounds, are unlikely to lay with their paws crossed, as there are more comfortable positions for them to rest.

Breeds with broad chests, including bulldogs, may also find it an uncomfortable way to lay due to their anatomy. There’s also the possibility that crossing the paws is uncomfortable for some dogs, particularly those with arthritis in the elbows.

Is Paw Crossing Ever Something To Worry About?

Paw crossing on its own is rarely something to worry about. It’s usually just a comfortable position for your dog to rest, particularly when they are in a secure environment.

But as with all canine behaviours, it’s important to watch out for changes and other symptoms.

If your dog starts crossing their paws more often, or seems uncomfortable while resting, it could be a sign of joint discomfort. Here are some other signs of joint pain:

  • Limping or favoring one leg
  • Difficulty standing up or lying down
  • Swelling around the joints
  • Reluctance to jump or play
  • Irritability
  • Licking or biting specific joints

It’s also important to watch your dog’s paws for any signs of colour changes (including changing to pink or red), excessive paw licking, wounds, black spots, blisters, or other signs that something is right.

If you notice any of these symptoms, you should contact a vet immediately and take your pet for a checkup. Don’t take risks with your dog’s health, as quick treatment can be essential for a positive outcome.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why Do Dogs Cross Their Paws Over Your Arm?

Some dogs cross their paws over their owner’s arms when they are getting a belly rub. While it’s not possible to know exactly why dogs do this, it’s probably a sign of affection, trust and love. Think of it like your dog giving you a hug! Check out our guide to why dogs put their paw on you if you want to know more about how dogs use their paws to show affection.

Why Do Dogs Cover Their Nose With Their Paws?

Some dogs appear to feel more comfortable and secure sleeping with their nose covered. This may be due to a variety of reasons, including a sense of security, warmth, and comfort. Read our guide to why dogs cover their nose with their paws to learn more.


Despite being called “polite paws”, crossing the paws isn’t a sign that the dog is being well-mannered. Instead, it’s simply a comfortable (and cute!) position for the dog to rest.

It’s worth noting that dogs typically only cross their paws if they feel comfortable and relaxed. A dog that’s tense or alert will probably choose a position that makes it easier to quickly spring into action.

Not all dogs enjoy laying with their paws crossed though. For example, dogs with short legs, broad chests, or joint pain in the elbows probably won’t choose this resting position.

Do you have any questions about why dogs cross their paws? Or is there another canine behaviour that you would like to know more about? Please let us know in the comments section below.


Richard Cross

Richard is a journalist who specialises in dog behavior. He's written hundreds of articles and books related to dogs, including for the Continental Kennel Club, Dog Fest (the UK's biggest dog festival) and various veterinary surgeries. When he's not spending time with Jess and Rudy (his beloved Labrador and Golden Retrievers), he enjoys reading, hiking and watching sports.
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